One of the aims of my trip elephant songs is meeting musicians in places I travel through on my journey from South India to Amsterdam. As I explained in the five-minute-film I made to introduce the project, when collaborating with people in this way, playing together at such short notice, it is not about coordinating big elaborate forms, complex themes, or cleverly schemed developments. All of those may occur, but in spontaneous ways and as individual voices. We’re trying to have a conversation, exchange thoughts, not stage a classic play.
On most previous occasions, we did work out a structure, some themes, a raga, groove, or mood to inspire and sometimes guide us, maybe just give us a starting point. In Istanbul on the other hand, I’m meeting a lot of musicians who are into playing without any arrangements at all – like I used to do a lot in Amsterdam. Amongst the most versatile and imaginative musicians I met were cellist Anıl Eraslan and vocalist Sumru Ağıryürüyen. I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with them at the Gitar Cafe in Kadiköy, across the high scary bridge, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. (Yes, I live in Europe these days.)
Sumru and Anıl play together more often, despite the fact that Anıl is based in Strasbourg at the moment. They have a fantastic album called Sert Sessizler / Harsh Consonants out on Baykuş Music; check also their video – great textures, samples, whistling, voice, cello in all the ways you’d imagine and a few more. For the album, it seems the editing room is as much an instrument as the recorded events, reminiscent in methodology (though not necessarily in sound) of Henry Cow‘s Unrest.
In elephant songs, I generally try to avoid working with existing combinations. Of course musicians often know each other – I meet them through each other after all – but playing with a new combation of people greatly reduces the risk of people playing their usual stuff, with my drums as just an extra voice that may not actually make such a big difference. I knew Anıl and Sumru work together more often (hadn’t heard Sert Sessizler yet though), but the way we interacted felt totally three-way. I wasn’t playing with a duo, this was three people meeting on new ground – of course all bringing our own preferences and tricks, our histories and our dreams.
When I played with a band called Schors a few lifetimes ago, we used to play “singles”: an improvisation of three to four minutes, one idea, concise and, in one way or another, catchy. I’ve been using that approach with many improvisers since, and this is what happened when we did a version with the 8 August trio.